“The pain is so bad, I cannot go to work. I cannot get out of bed and I don’t think it’s just my period.”
“My daughter is in high school and her periods are so painful she cannot go to school for two days every month. Panadol doesn’t really help.”
One out of ten women are suffering from the painful effects of endometriosis – a painful, inflammatory condition. Some sufferers have no pain and are unaware they have it whilst others may experience complete debilitation with pain and cramps. The pain is often felt between the uterus and the rectum. But it could be anywhere as it is an inflammatory condition. The pain often appears with intercourse, rectal pressure, bowel movements and especially before a period when hormones are shifting rapidly.
Endometriosis is characterised by lesions that look like uterine lining that form outside the uterus in the pelvic area and, mysteriously, even outside the pelvic area. There is often an element of scarring and systemic inflammation. Like many health conditions the causes are uncertain – retrograde menstruation, oestrogen dominance, genetics, and autoimmunity are widely accepted theories.
The diagnosis of endometriosis is not straightforward and studies suggest that the average sufferer goes to about five doctors before diagnosis. Many women are misdiagnosed with bladder issues or IBS. A laparoscopy will yield the best diagnosis of endometriosis.
Treatment traditionally is:
1. Hormone therapy: Like most drugs, hormonal therapy has its pros and cons. This yields temporary and often welcome pain relief, but can make people feel unwell and it’s expensive. The Merina IUD is taking the lead in hormone therapy, as is the use of bio-identical hormones.
2. Surgery: Like most surgery, there are risks. There is often relief but in 50% of cases the lesions will grow back in five years.
3. Nutrition, lifestyle and supplements: We cannot cure endometriosis naturally but we can lessen the pain of inflammation and boost the immune system. The calming of pain in any inflammatory disease can give a person back their quality of life – like going to school or work, feeling happy, ability to exercise, and even have a restful night’s sleep. Play close attention to how your body reacts to the nutritional changes.
Nutrition, Lifestyle and Supplements
1. Avoid dairy (A1 protein) and gluten. In all inflammatory conditions, we recommend coming off these food products for a 6-12 month time period. I dislike taking out any food group but in this case we know that these foods will add to the inflammation in the body. These foods can be reintroduced after 6 months but separate by one month to see how your body reacts to the re-introduced food.
2. Avoid any hidden sugar. Those who know me know that I am not an extreme nutritionist, but sometimes you have to pull out the big guns! No hidden sugar for six months. Fruit sugar should be limited to two pieces per day- preferably berries, apples or pears. Why? Sugar is highly inflammatory in the body. It also messes up your gut flora which is essential for the immune system. Replace sugar cravings with an abundance of vegetables to fill you up and provide natural liver cleansing.
3. Minimise coffee and wine. Sorry! Yes these two! Coffee and wine can be inflammatory so use your intuition. Are they making you inflamed? If so, then stop them completely. Excess consumption of these can affect your liver- especially alcohol. This in turn, can have an estrogenic effect on endometriosis.
4. Acupuncture. Harvard Medical School conducted a study and found a Japanese style of acupuncture may be effective and safe for endometriosis related pain. Participants experienced a remarkable 62% less pain after only 4 weeks.
5. Supplements. I always believe in whole, real foods first to underpin any health condition. But sometimes we can benefit from supplements. Vitamins and herbs should only be taken after consulting a nutritionist or a GP.
- Essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6 (evening primrose oil) are effective for reducing inflammation and hormone balancing. 2000 mg per day.
- Zinc, citrate or chelated, has anti inflammatory effects and is often found to be deficient in endo patients. Zinc reduces prostaglandins and pain.
- Probiotics in food and supplements. Look for lactobacillus gasseri OLL2809 which has been shown to reduce endometriosis pain in 12 weeks. Have at least one serve of probiotic rich food per day in conjunction with the probiotic supplement. Foods to include are kim chi, sauerkraut, unsweetened yogurt and kefir.
- Turmeric or Curcumin have an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant role. Turmeric helps in curbing the growth of endometriosis by reducing the production of of the estradiol hormone- a key predator in this is painful condition. As with all supplements and herbs, seek the advice of a nutritionist or functional medicine GP for dosage and contraindications. Turmeric grated into foods like soup, salads and more is very a rarely an issue with over consumption.
- Pycnogenol, maritime pine bark extract has been used as an effective treatment for endometriosis. A study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine concludes that pycnogenol serves as a therapeutic alternative to hormone therapy in the treatment of endometriosis.
As with all health conditions, please consult a qualified nutritionist or GP about your wellbeing and medications and any contraindication.
Michele and all of her team are available for 45 minute phone or Skype consults 7 days per week. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment.
Listen below to the Thinkergirls podcast End-The-Road with Michele Chevalley Hedge on Endometriosis!